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'Soliloquies of suffering and consolation': Fiction as elegy and refusal

Lecture on the Novel in English, delivered by Professor John Burnside, on 23 May 2017 (venue: The British Academy).

Susan Stewart has said that in 'writing soliloquies of suffering and consolation … elegists have discovered … a powerful means of addressing the tensions between grief's inchoate emotion and social rituals of mourning.' Using work by Graham Swift, Adam Thorpe and Michael Bracewell, Professor Burnside argues that such elegies have informed one important strand of British fiction over the last 30 years, where the growth of 'cultural totalitarianism' (cf. Jonathan Franzen) has engendered, on the one hand, a primal impulse to preserve individual integrity against societal control, and on the other, a profound grief for the consequent loss of communal and ritual life.

John Burnside is Professor in the School of English at the University of St Andrews. His novels include The Devil’s Footprints (2007), Glister (2008), and A Summer of Drowning (2011). He is also the author of two collections of short stories, three memoirs and several prize-winning poetry collections. His most recent novel, a study of American grief, is Ashland & Vine (Jonathan Cape, 2017).

The lecture was chaired by Professor Robert Crawford FBA.

More about the Lectures on the Novel in English